Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Watch out America, Mizrahi music is here to stay

Sarit Hadad

Israeli Middle Eastern music is not well known among American Jews, so LW Ben Yechezkiel has taken on the task of introducing the readers of the LA Jewish Journal to it (with thanks: Michelle):

This week I got a chance to catch a concert by Israeli pop superstar Moshe Peretz at a great small venue call Tzafta in Jerusalem. This was particularly a treat since Peretz usually plays to sold out crowds in Israels Nokia Center in Tel Aviv (Israels staples center/msg/universal ampitheatre) or Caesaerea (Israeli’s Hollywood Bowl/Greek Theatre….l’havidil).

Peretz is part of the wave of Mizrachi (middle eastern) Israeli music that dominates the pop scene. Other superstars include Eyal Golan aand Sarit Hadad. This music is not well known among American Jews. At the LA Yom Haatzmaut, Golan was the featured performer at the end of the day. As the day wound down one could see the Americans heading home and the Israelis arriving. In fact my friend Yossi Klein Halevi a scholar at Jerusalem’s Hartman Institute often lectures on modern Israeli music (although our tastes differ a bit) but told me that when he suggests this topic on his scholar-in-residence visits to the States at synagogues, they almost always prefer he talk on politics. I hope Yossi doesn' t mind linking this short clip of a presentation on this subject I attended at the Sephardic Education Center in Jerusalem, (yes that’s Rav Bouskila in the clip too) - maybe it will inspire more congregations to invite Yossi to speak on this subject.

The music represents several trends in Israeli society:

The rise of Mizrachi empowerment particularly since the election of Menachem Begin. Up through the late 1980s the Israel Broadcasting Authority didn't even play this music. It was called musica ha casetot, most of the performers didn't have record contracts and sold their tapes often from performances at weddings outside the Tel Aviv central bus station.

The breaking down of cultural barriers between Mizrachi and Ashkenazi jews….although more elitist Ashkenazi types favor more rock- oriented musicians, some Israeli but mostly American/European.

Great comfort with Jewish tradition. Several collections of traditional songs performed by prominent artists feature performances with Moshe Peretz, Eyal Golan and others.

Comfort with their roots in the Muslim countries with use of traditional Middle Eastern instruments and songs performed in Arabic.

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